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I had some light literature always by my side, and in the breaks I read through more than once nearly the whole of Shakespeare, Boswell's Life of Johnson, the Agamemnon of Æschylus (the only Greek play which I could read without effort), a great part of Lucretius and so on. Of course I often got excited by my mathematics, and read for half an hour or more without stopping : but that meant that my mind was intense, and no harm was done.” A power of intense concentration for brief periods, combined with a lack of power of continuous concentration, was characteristic of him all his life. He was seldom able to execute at white heat any considerable piece of work. He was also bothered by the lack of a retentive memory: even as an undergraduate his mathematical book-work troubled him as much as the problems did. As a boy he had a strong arithmetical faculty, which he afterwards lost.
Meanwhile at St. John's College, Cambridge, Alfred Marshall fulfilled his ambitions. In 1865 he was Second Wrangler,1 the year when Lord Rayleigh was Senior, and he was immediately elected to a Fellowship. He proposed to devote himself to the study of molecular physics. Meanwhile he earned his living (and repaid Uncle Charles) by becoming for a brief period a mathematical master at Clifton, under Percival, for whom he had a great veneration. A little later he returned to Cambridge and took up coaching for the Mathematical Tripos for a short time. In this way“ Mathematics,” he said, “ had paid my arrears. I was free for my own inclinations.”
The main importance of Marshall's time at Clifton was that he made friends with H. G. Dakyns, who had gone there as an assistant master on the foundation of Clifton College in 1862, and, through him, with J. R. Mozley. These friendships opened to him the door into the intellectual circle of which Henry Sidgwick was the centre. Up to this time there is no evidence of Marshall's having been in touch with the more eminent of his contemporaries, but soon after his return to Cambridge he became a member of the small, informal Discussion Society known as the “ Grote Club."
The Grote Club came into existence with discussions after dinner in the Trumpington Vicarage of the Reverend John Grote, who was Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy from 1855 till his death in 1866. The original members, besides Grote, were Henry Sidgwick, Aldis Wright, J. B. Mayor, and
1 One of the famous band of Second Wranglers, which includes Whewell, Clerk Maxwell, Kelvin, and W. K, Clifford.
John Venn. J. R. Mozley of King's and J. B. Pearson of St. John's joined a little later. Marshall wrote 2 the following account of his own connection with the Society :
“When I was admitted in 1867, the active members were Professor F. D. Maurice (Grote's successor), Sidgwick, Venn, J. R. Mozley and J. B. Pearson. . . . After 1867 or 1868 the club languished a little; but new vigour was soon imparted to it by the advent of W. K. Clifford and J. F. Moulton. For a year or two Sidgwick, Mozley, Clifford, Moulton, and myself were the active members; and we all attended regularly. Clifford and Moulton had at that time read but little philosophy; so they kept quiet for the first half-hour of the discussion, and listened eagerly to what others, and especially Sidgwick, said. Then they let their tongues loose, and the pace was tremendous. If I might have verbatim reports of a dozen of the best conversations I have heard, I should choose two or three from among those evenings in which Sidgwick and Clifford were the chief speakers. Another would certainly be a conversation at tea before a Grote Club meeting, of which I have unfortunately no record (I think it was early in 1868), in which practically no one spoke but Maurice and Sidgwick. Sidgwick devoted himself to drawing out Maurice's recollections of English social and political life in the 'thirties, 'forties, and 'fifties. Maurice's face shone out bright, with its singular holy radiance, as he responded to Sidgwick's inquiries and suggestions; and we others said afterwards that we owed all the delight of that evening to him. ..."
It was at this time and under these influences that there came the crisis in his mental development, of which in later years he often spoke. His design to study physics was (in his own words) “cut short by the sudden rise of a deep interest in the philosophical foundation of knowledge, especially in relation to theology.”
In Marshall's undergraduate days at Cambridge a preference for Mathematics over Classics had not interfered with the integrity of his early religious beliefs. He still looked forward to ordination and his zeal directed itself at times towards the field of Foreign Missions. A missionary he remained all his life, but after a quick struggle religious beliefs dropped away, and he became, for the rest of his life, what used to be called an agnostic. Of his relationship to Sidgwick at this time, Marshall
· For Dr. Venn's account of early meetings, see Henry Sidgwick : a Memoir, p. 134.
2 Printed in Henry Sidgwick : a Memoir, p. 137.
spoke as follows (at the meeting for a Sidgwick Memorial, Trinity Lodge, Nov. 26, 1900) : “ Though not his pupil in name, I was in substance his pupil in Moral Science, and I am the oldest of them in residence. I was fashioned by him. He was, so to speak, my spiritual father and mother : for I'went to him for aid when perplexed, and for comfort when troubled; and I never returned empty away. The minutes that I spent with him were not ordinary minutes; they helped me to live. I had to pass through troubles and doubts somewhat similar to those with which he, with broader knowledge and greater strength, had fought his way; and perhaps of all the people who have cause to be grateful to him, none has more than I.”
Marshall's Cambridge career came just at the date which will, I think, be regarded by the historians of opinion as the critical moment at which Christian dogma fell away from the serious philosophical world of England, or at any rate of Cambridge. In 1863 Henry Sidgwick, aged twenty-four, had subscribed to the Thirty-Nine Articles as a condition of tenure of his Fellowship, and was occupied in reading Deuteronomy in Hebrew and preparing lectures on the Acts of the Apostles. Mill, the greatest intellectual influence on the youth of the age, had written nothing which clearly indicated any divergence from received religious opinions up to his Examination of Hamilton in 1865.2 At about this time Leslie Stephen was an Anglican clergyman, James Ward a Nonconformist minister, Alfred Marshall a candidate for holy orders, W. K. Clifford a High Churchman. In 1869 Sidgwick resigned his Trinity Fellowship, “to free myself from dogmatic obligations.” A little later none of these could have been called Christians. Nevertheless Marshall, like Sidgwick, 3 was as far as possible from adopting an “anti-religious" attitude. He sympathised with Christian morals and Christian ideals and Christian incentives. There is nothing in his writings depreciating religion in any form ; few of his pupils could have spoken definitely about his religious opinions. At the end of his life he said, “ Religion seems to me an attitude," and that, though he had given up Theology, he believed more and more in Religion.
The great change-over of the later 'sixties was an intellectual change, not the ethical or emotional change which belongs to a later generation, and it was a wholly intellectual debate which brought it about. Marshall was wont to attribute the beginning of his own transition of mind to the controversy arising out of H. L. Mansel's Bampton Lectures, which was first put into his hands by J. R. Mozley. Mansel means nothing to the present generation. But, as the protagonist of the last attempt to found Christian dogma on an intellectual basis, he was of the greatest importance in the 'sixties. In 1858 Mansel, an Oxford don and afterwards Dean of St. Paul's, “ adopted from Hamilton 1 the peculiar theory which was to enlist Kant in the service of the Church of England ” 2an odd tergiversation of the human mind, the influence of which was great in Oxford for a full fifty years. Mansel's Bampton Lectures of 1858 brought him to the front as an intellectual champion of orthodoxy. In 1865, the year in which Marshall took his degree and had began to turn his mind to the four quarters of heaven, there appeared Mill's Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, which included a criticism of Mansel's extension of Hamilton to Christian Theology. Mansel replied. Mansel's defence of orthodoxy “showed me,” Marshall said, “how much there was to be defended.” The great controversy dominated Marshall's thoughts and drove him for a time to metaphysical studies, and then onward to the social sciences.
1 He had decided in 1861 not to take orders.
2 Mill's Essays on Religion, which gave his final opinions, were not published until 1874, after his death.
3 For a most interesting summary of Sidgwick's attitude in later life, see his Memoir, p. 505. Or see the last paragraph of W. K. Clifford's “ Ethics of Religion” (Lectures and Essays, ii. 244) for another characteristic reaction of Marshall's generation
Meanwhile in 1859, the year following the Bampton Lectures, the Origin of Species had appeared, to point away from heaven or the clouds to an open road on earth; and in 1860-62 Herbert Spencer's First Principles (unreadable as it now is), also born out of the Hamilton-Mansel controversy, took a new direction, dissolved metaphysics in agnosticism, and warned all but ingrained metaphysical minds away from a blind alley. Metaphysical agnosticism, Evolutionary progress, and—the one remnant still left of the intellectual inheritance of the previous generationUtilitarian ethics joined to propel the youthful mind in a new direction.
From Metaphysics, therefore, Marshall turned his mind to Ethics. It would be true, I suppose, to say that Marshall never
1 In 1836 Sir William Hamilton, having established his genealogy and made good his claim to a baronetcy, had been appointed to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh, and delivered during the next eight years the famous lectures which attempted the dangerous task of superimposing influences drawn from Kant and the German philosophers on the Scottish tradition of common sense.
? Stephen, English Utilitarians, iii. 382.
departed explicitly from the Utilitarian ideas which dominated the generation of economists who preceded him. But it is remarkable with what caution-in which respect he goes far beyond Sidgwick and is at the opposite pole from Jevons—he handled all such matters. There is, I think, no passage in his works in which he links economic studies to any ethical doctrine in particular. The solution of economic problems was for Marshall, not an application of the hedonistic calculus, but a prior condition of the exercise of man's higher faculties, irrespective, almost, of what we mean by “higher.” The economist can claim, and this claim is sufficient for his purposes, that “the study of the causes of poverty is the study of the causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind."i Correspondingly, the possibility of progress“ depends in a great measure upon facts and inferences, which are within the province of economics; and this it is which gives to economic studies their chief and their highest interest.” 2 This remains true even though the question also “ depends partly on the moral and political capabilities of human nature; and on these matters the economist has no special means of information; he must do as others do, and guess as best he can.” 3
This was his final position. Nevertheless it was only through Ethics that he first reached Economics. In a retrospect of his mental history, drawn from him towards the end of his life, he said : “From Metaphysics I went to Ethics, and thought that the justification of the existing condition of society was not easy. A friend, who had read a great deal of what are now called the Moral Sciences, constantly said : ‘Ah ! if you understood Political Economy you would not say that.' So I read Mill's Political Economy and got much excited about it. I had doubts as to the propriety of inequalities of opportunity, rather than of material comfort. Then, in my vacations I visited the poorest quarters of several cities and walked through one street after another, looking at the faces of the poorest people. Next, I resolved to make as thorough a study as I could of Political Economy.”
His passage into Economics is also described in his own words in some pages, 4 written about 1917 and designed for the Preface to Money, Credit and Commerce : “ About the year 1867
1 Principles (1st ed.), pp. 3, 4.
3 lbid. 4 Rescued by Mrs. Marshall from the waste-paper basket, whither too great a proportion of the results of his mental toil found their way; like his great. great-uncle, the Reverend Richard Marshall, who is said to have been a good poet and was much pressed to publish his compositions, to which, however, he had so great an objection that lest it be done after his death, he burnt all his papers.